Why do poor, uneducated white voters who benefit from government spending on the poor support conservatives who attack social welfare programs? Thomas Frank tried to answer the question in his 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas in 2004, and now, with Donald Trump getting perilously close to winning the Republican nomination, he thinks the rural vote is up for grabs.
Trump’s support is aligned with “deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America,” Frank wrote in the Guardian in March.
The fact that Trump’s support comes overwhelmingly from poor rural areas is not a new observation. Kevin Williamson of National Review had already posited a solution in October 2015. Someone living in a dead end town with no future, ought to move somewhere where there are better opportunities. If they don’t want to move, they have to take the bad with the good. It’s a choice, and choices have consequences.
Rural voters, however, hold resentment against urban residents. They don’t want to move, and they want someone else to solve their problems. That much is evident from reading Katherine J. Cramer’s new and important book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Cramer visited each county in Wisconsin and did a sociological study on its residents and found a kind of identity politics emerged in rural areas that blamed their problems on outsiders, urbanites and government neglect. While the subtext of the book is on Wisconsin Governor Walker and his three electoral victories (including once in a recall election), the information in the book applies just as much to Republicans in general and especially Trump.